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A long history

Americans in German soccer

Julian Green’s memorable World Cup debut and the United States national team’s German-American contingent have both shed a big spotlight on the Bundesliga and German soccer in the US. In recent years, Bayern have been no stranger to facing those dual nationals who now play for the US or Americans who have crossed the pond to try their luck in Germany. But the history between Americans and German soccer is much longer than that and goes way back to the days before the league’s inception, through the 1980s and 90s up until today.

An early American in German soccer was Horst Rick, a dual national who played for Fortuna Düsseldorf and Eintracht Braunschweig in the German Oberliga in the 1950s and 60s and earned one cap for the US national team. Then there was Andy Mate who was actually born in Hungary but represented the US in the 1960s. He spent the 1964/65 season with Hamburg.

The late 1970s and early 80s saw a reversal in directions as several German players headed to America instead, including Bayern Munich’s own Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller as well as some notable Bundesliga stars like Bernd Hölzenbein, Klaus Toppmöller and Helmut Kremers. It wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 90s that Americans truly began to make an impact in Germany.

One of the first Americans to establish themselves in Germany was Paul Caligiuri who signed with Hamburg in 1987 a year out of college. He would go on to play for Hansa Rostock, SC Freiburg and St. Pauli as well as make 110 appearances for the US national team. He is well known for scoring the goal that qualified the US for the 1990 World Cup, their first appearance at the tournament in 40 years.

Thomas Dooley was another early pioneer for Americans and dual nationals in German soccer. Born in Germany, Dooley was the son of an American serviceman who played for 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke between 1988 and 1997, winning four titles in the process. He also enjoyed a successful career with the US national team, captaining them at the 1998 World Cup.

The number of Americans in Germany increased significantly in the 1990s and early 2000s with many notable former national team players making pit stops in the Bundesliga. That list included players like Claudio Reyna, Gregg Berhalter, Frankie Hejduk, Kasey Keller, Brian McBride and Tony Sanneh, all members of the US’s World Cup squad over the years. Perhaps the most successful of all has been Steve Cherundolo who spent his entire club career with Hannover 96, spanning 370 games between 1999 and 2014. He went on to captain the club and set the team record for Bundesliga appearances.

Even current US national team players like Landon Donovan, DeMarcus Beasley and Michael Bradley have had spells with clubs in the Bundesliga, a trend that is looking very likely to continue into the foreseeable future.